Sunday, July 2, 2017

Billy Thompson & Squirrel Tooth Alice -- Part 2

Chauncey Belden Whitney
We left off in Billy Thompson & Squirrel Tooth Alice -- Part 1, with Billy and Libby married with their first child in Ellsworth, Kansas. They were joined by his brother Ben, and the brothers worked as house gamblers at Joe Brennan's saloon.

At the same time, Libby worked as a dancehall girl and prostitute. And as I stated in part one, it's said that it didn't take Billy and Ben long after arriving in town for them to become good friends with Ellsworth County Sheriff Chauncey Whitney.

Chauncey Belden Whitney was an early Ellsworth County settler. He was Ellsworth Township Constable from 1867-1873, Ellsworth Marshall from 1871-1872,  Ellsworth County Under Sheriff in 1870, and finally County Sheriff from 1871 to his being killed in 1873.

If it seems strange that he held a number of law enforcement positions at the same time, it wasn't unusual to do so back in the day. In fact, one of the more famous examples of that sort of this is Virgil Earp who was both a Deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone's City Marshal in 1881.

He was said to be an extremely effective lawman, even though he and newly elected Ellsworth City Marshal John "Happy Jack" Morco didn't get along. Marshal Morco was well known for boasting that he'd killed twelve men. A figure that no one knows if true or not. Yes, like many in the Old West that inflated such a figure -- he too was probably doing it to sound like a bad hombre that you shouldn't mess with.

As with things today, it was the same back then, those who boast and brag aren't usually the real deal. Sheriff Whitney was both well-liked and respected in Ellsworth County. In addition to his law enforcement duties, Whitney served as a civilian scout during the Indian Wars and was involved in the Battle of Beecher's Island. In fact, in July of 1869, he was a First Lieutenant of Company A, Second Battalion, of the Kansas State Militia, which provided settlers with valuable protection against hostile Indians. He didn't have to brag and boast. He was the real deal.

And while it is said that both Thompson brothers became good friends with County Sheriff Whitney, the same cannot be said about their relationship with City Marshall Morco. For example, on June 30th, 1873, City Marshal Morco arrested Billy Thompson for carrying a weapon within city limits. And yes, Ellsworth, Kansas, had a no-carry city ordinance many years before Tombstone, Arizona ever did. 

As for the fine for carrying, it is said that though the arrest and fine angered Billy Thompson, he paid it. But then just a couple of weeks later, on August 15th, 1873, Billy Thompson was drinking heavily and started to become rowdy and extremely vocal about his dislike for Marshal Morco. 

Sheriff Whitney, who had planned to leave town that day with his family, felt that Billy would get himself into trouble so he chose to remain in town instead. At the same time, Ben Thompson introduced John Sterling into a high-stakes game. Ben did this with the agreement that due to his introduction, that he would get a percentage of any winnings. 

Sterling left the saloon with over $1,000 without offering Ben Thompson his share. Ben was angry and sought him out. He found Sterling in another saloon in the company of City Marshal Morco. And even though Sterling was friends with Morco, Ben Thompson demanded his cut of the winnings.

Knowing that Ben Thompson was unarmed because of the city ordinance, Sterling stood up and slapped him. This took place while City Marshal Morco pulled his pistol on Ben. 

Believe it or not, City Marshal John Morco and John Sterling then stood outside the saloon and called for Ben Thompson to come out and fight. At this same time, an intoxicated Billy Thompson heard that his brother was in trouble and ran to help him. Both brothers then armed themselves. And to the sadness of Morco and Sterling, both brothers walked out into the street. So things are now very different. Where Morco and Sterling thought they had easy pickings against an unarmed gunman legend Ben Thompson, they now faced an armed gunman willing to kill them both -- and his armed younger brother. 

Sheriff Whitney responded immediately to try to defuse the bomb that was about to go off. He knew Morco was a bragger who talked a good fight that no one ever witnessed. On the other hand, he knew Ben Thompson was not a bragger and could back his play. So immediately, sensing that Morco and Sterling were about to be killed, Sheriff Whitney confronted the Thompson's and implored them to accompany him for a drink and talk the situation over. Whitney assured both brothers that they would not be harmed. Ben agreed while knowing that Sheriff Whitney's word was good.

As they walked to Brennan's saloon, Morco and Sterling made a move that another observer, another Texan, saw as a threat. He yelled a warning to Ben Thompson, and Ben turned and fired a rifle shot at the pair. Both Morco and Sterling froze in their tracks, some say they wet themselves. 

But the next instant, Ben heard his brother fire his shotgun from behind him. Turning to see what happened, Ben saw his friend Sheriff Whitney wither and fall to the ground. The sheriff was shot accidentally by a blast from a barrel of Billy's shotgun. 

Upon seeing what just happened, Ben was heard to say, "My God Billy! You have shot your best friend!" Billy responded, "I'm sorry!" Sheriff Whitney who was mortally wounded stated, "He did not intend to do it, it was an accident. Send for my family." 

Witnesses later stated that Billy Thompson was not even looking at Sheriff Whitney when his shotgun went off. Sheriff Whitney was actually standing to his side when Billy stumbled while turning to meet the threat by Morco and Sterling. Because of the danger from being shot in the back from backshooter City Marshal Morco and his tin-horn gambler cohort Sterling, Billy had his shotgun cocked when one barrel accidentally went off mortally wounding Sheriff Whitney. 

It is said that Ben Thompson and an army of Texas cowboys held the town at bay while Billy escaped. The fact is, Ben Thompson held off the town with a single rifle despite the shooting being accidental. 

And as for Billy? Well, Ben wisely feared that regardless of the facts of the circumstances surrounding the accidental shooting -- Billy would most likely be lynched. So Ben forced his brother Billy onto a horse and ordered him to get out of town.

One story says he left in a hurry, circled around to get Libby and their child and fled. Supposedly Billy and Libby ran and the couple wound up in Dodge City where Billy gambled and Libby worked as a dancer and prostitute. Another says that instead of riding fast, Billy appeared to have had a problem staying in his saddle while simply riding slowly through town while yelling for anyone who wanted to fight to come to take him on. Either way, Billy and Libby left Ellsworth.

Marshal Morco had deputy Ed Hogue arrest Texas cowboy Neil Cain. Cain may have been the Texas cowboy and friend of the Thompson brothers who warned them about being bushwhacked by the city marshal and his gambler friend. Cain was escorted out of town at gunpoint. Hogue is said to had made sure Cain left town without being shot in the back by Morco. 

Once Billy was safely out of town, Ben turned himself over to deputy Ed Hogue. Upon hearing what actually took place, including a statement from a dying Sheriff Chauncey Belden Whitney who did die a few days later on August 18th, charges against Ben were dropped by the city. No, he was not tried. And no, Wyatt Earp had nothing to do with anything that took place that day. 

As for Ben Thompson, he then left Kansas to later become the City Marshal of Austin, Texas. And as for the town of Ellsworth, Kansas, it is said that after the shooting that all hell broke loose in that the town council dismissed the entire police force and replaced it with new personnel.

City Marshal John "Happy Jack" Morco was fired over his having instigated the whole thing. But believe it or not, before Morco left he issued a warrant against Ben Thompson for assault which the city immediately rescinded. Former Marshal Morco also posted a reward of $500 for the capture and return of Billy Thompson -- "Dead or Alive." Billy Thompson was able to avoid Kansas authorities until 1876 when he was returned to Ellsworth. He stood trial and was acquitted when the jury ruled that the shooting was indeed an accident.

After John "Happy Jack” Morco was fired, he was replaced by a man named Ed Crawford. Crawford was known to hate Texans and had actually pistol-whipped a young Texas cowboy named Cad Pierce to death two days later after first shooting him in the side. 

Soon the citizens of Ellsworth were tired of the performance of the lawmen as well as the Texans, and vigilantes began to roam the streets issuing 'affidavits" any Texan there, cowboy or not, to "get out of town or else." Of course not long after Sheriff Whitney's death, former-City Marshal John "Happy Jack" Morco was boasting during a dispute with a Texas cowboy.

Morco was shot and killed by newly appointed Ellsworth Police Officer J. C. Brown in front of Lizzie Palmer's Dancehall. Some say Morco pulled a pistol on that cowboy and was shot by Brown. Some say Brown observed Morco and that Texan arguing and went in to break it up. That's when Morco drew down on Officer Brown, and Brown shot first. Either way, Brown shot John "Happy Jack” Morco dead in self-defense in the streets of Ellsworth. And as for Officer J. Charles Brown, he later becomes the City Marshal there.

Right after Morco is shot dead, Ellsworth's new City Marshal Ed Crawford was shot dead. Remember that Crawford hated Texans and pistol-whipped young Texas cowboy Cad Pierce to death. Well, he himself was gunned down by a Texas cowboy who is believed to have been Cad Pierce's brother-in-law who wanted revenge.

After the death of Sheriff Whitney, Billy Thompson became known as the troubled and dangerous younger brother of legend Ben Thompson. And though people may have seen him that way, only a select few friends of older brother Ben knew that Billy was still a wanted man living on the run from both lawmen and bounty hunters. 

Remember when we talked about how Aransas County would hunt for Billy Thompson for the remainder of his life because he murdered Remus Smith? Well, though officials in Aransas County changed hands over the years, their Sheriffs' Office regularly sent out warrants to lawmen around the state of Texas still looking for Billy. That murder would have to be answered for.

In June of 1874, Billy Thompson narrowly escaped capture in Austin, Texas. Then later that same year, he was captured in Mountain City, Texas, but escaped and fled to San Antonio, Texas, where he entered the Long Horse brothel with a friend. While there he supposedly slapped a prostitute and soon had to get out of town when two City Police Officers came looking for him. That incident supposedly turned into was foot race where Billy again escaped.

By 1876, Billy and Libby moved to Sweetwater, Texas. This became their permanent home. In fact, unbeknownst to the law, in Sweetwater the couple purchased a ranch outside of town and a dance hall in town. It's said that Libby ran the dance hall which was a front for her brothel. And no, Libby was not embarrassed by her profession.

It is said that Libby was well known as a madam in Sweetwater. Most folks know her for keeping pet prairie dogs. Yes, pet prairie dogs. Imagine that. Of course, that was also about the same time that she was given the moniker "Squirrel Tooth Alice" because of a gap in her teeth. As for Billy, he was in and out of Sweetwater mostly while avoiding the law whenever he could.

That worked well until Texas Ranger Captain John Sparks caught up to him in October of 1876 in Travis County, Texas. Sparks was leading a small Ranger unit that was actually seeking a rancher for cattle rustling. While raiding a ranch, the Rangers came upon Billy and took him into custody for the killing of Ellsworth County Sheriff Whitney. The Rangers would hold Billy until extradition to Kansas could be arranged.

It's said the Rangers sent fellow lawman Ben Thompson a message to notify him of his brother's arrest. Immediately Ben found an attorney to represent Billy. Ben also contacted the folks in Aransas County in an attempt to keep Billy out of the hands of the folks in Kansas who would relish the idea of hanging the Texan responsible for killing their beloved Sheriff.

Soon though, there was a rumor going around that Ben was planning to break Billy out of jail to keep him from going to Kansas. Then people started to take note of the fact that a number of Ben's friends had boarded a train in Corsicana, Texas. Ranger Sparks got word of this and soon took precautions in case it was true, that an attempt to free his prisoner by friends of Ben Thompson was real. So while in Dallas County, Texas, Ranger Sparks requested additional guards from the county sheriff. Sparks got over a dozen to bolster his guard force.

It's said that the overwhelming show of force stopped all plans of a rescue attempt to keep Billy Thompson out of Kansas. And while the town of Ellsworth sought to have Billy jailed in Salina, Kansas, feeling the jail there was more secure, the decision was made to house him at Leavenworth prison because more of Ben Thompson's friends kept showing up in town.

The trial only lasted nine days. In the end, Billy Thompson was acquitted. Yes, as shocking as that sounds, he was acquitted. And although that case was ruled to have been accidental, for some unknown reason, Billy was not held over for extradition to Aransas County, Texas, to face a jury over the murder of Remus Smith. Instead, he was released. And again Billy hit the road to gamble in saloons and gambling halls from Dodge City, Kansas, to boom towns all over the West.

Billy was arrested by lawman Mart Duggan in Leadville, Colorado, in December 1879, for disturbing the peace. He actually served only one night in jail for that. Then on June 21st, 1880, Billy was in Ogallala, Nebraska. He and a saloon owner named Bill Tucker hated each other. Supposedly Tucker was interested in a prostitute named "Big Alice" who Billy also had his eyes on.

It's said Billy Thompson was drunk when he stood in front of Bill Tucker's saloon and fired two shots inside. The first shot went wild, and the second shot is said to have actually hit Tucker in the hand. Yes, that shot took off one of Tucker's fingers while it mutilated the others.

In an absolute rage, Bill Tucker grabbed a shotgun and ran after Billy who was now running away as fast as he could. Tucker's first volley of two missed Billy. Then Tucker reloaded and fired two more. This time, Tucker hit Billy in the back "from his heels to his neck."

Bill Tucker was seen as simply protecting himself after being shot. Billy on the other hand was arrested. He was placed under guard at the Ogallala House Hotel to heal. And knowing of his brother Ben's famous reputation, the local Sheriff ordered a heavy guard just in case Ben's friends might want to come to get his brother.

This time though, things were different. Unlike what happened after finally being arrested for the accidental killing of Ellsworth County Sheriff Whitney, Ben Thompson felt his involvement would certainly result in unneeded bloodshed. So instead of his going to Ogallala, Ben asked his friend Bat Masterson to travel to Ogallala to see if he could assist Billy.

Bat Masterson did so and met with Billy. Then he met with the ailing Tucker, who was bitter but willing to drop charges for a price. Unfortunately Ben didn't have the sort of big money that Tucker wanted to drop the case. So knowing this, Bat Masterson actually distracted the guards to help Billy escape and take a train south. It's said that after Billy's escape, an embarrassed  Keith County, Nebraska, the grand jury indicted Billy for assault with intent to kill but then dropped the charges.

Of course, while the folks in Ogallala were up to forgetting about the matter of Billy's attempt to kill one of their citizens, the good folks over in Aransas County weren't about to.

On October 23rd, 1882, in El Paso, Texas, Texas Ranger Captain George W. Baylor arrested Billy Thompson for the murder of Remus Smith. Baylor turned him over to the El Paso County Sheriff. He was then remanded to the custody of Deputy Frank Manning to be returned to the town of Rockport.

It is said that Deputy Manning looked like an absolute fool after he allowed Billy "a night of freedom" with Billy's promise to return the next morning. Of course, Billy did not. And I can't help but wonder if Manning still had his job after that.

Then on May 10th, 1883, Aransas County Deputy P.P. Court found and arrested Billy Thompson in Arkansas. Deputy Court was not as dumb as Manning and finally returned Billy to stand trial for the Smith murder.

As for what took place at his trial? Well, since it was 15 years since the time of the murder, believe it or not, witnesses were not available and many of the facts entered into court were distorted because of poor record-keeping. And to add insult to injury, all of the lawmen who were serving at the time of young Smith's murder had long moved on long before the trail.

Fact is, the trial of the clear-cut murderer of Remus Smith took only one day. In the end, Billy Thompson was acquitted. Yes, he got away with cold-blooded murder. And the law allowed it to happen. This was the one killing committed by Billy Thompson that should have been an iron-clad case of murder, but he go away with it. After that judgment, for the first time since his first killing, Billy Thompson was not wanted by the law for anything.

On March 11th, 1884, his older brother Ben Thompson was killed in San Antonio, Texas, in what became known as the Vaudeville Theater Ambush. After the blatant murder of his brother Ben, many actually thought his brother Billy Thompson would go out and revenge his brother's death. Billy never did.

Billy Thompson is credited with having killed three men and wounding a fourth. That includes fatally shooting Sgt. Burke, the heartless killing of unarmed Remus Smith, the accidental shooting and subsequent death of Sheriff Chauncey Whitney, and the wounding of Bill Tucker who he shot in the hand. But instead of finding and killing those who killed his brother Ben, he didn't.

Some say it was because of his wife Libby and their many children. And of course, the reason why he didn't avenge his brother really doesn't matter because he simply didn't do what most saw as his duty. Especially, since most knew really well that his brother Ben took care of him throughout his life.

The saloons and gambling halls took their toll, and Billy Thompson died in an infirmary in Houston, Texas, on September 6th, 1897. Billy was 52 years old when he died. He died of "consumption" which is what they called tuberculosis (TB) back in the day. Yes, tuberculosis, the same thing that killed Doc Holliday.

Billy and Libby were married for 24 years. And believe it or not, it's said that he must have gone home to Sweetwater more than most folks realized simply because he and Libby had nine children together. Yes, nine children. Were they all his since she was a prostitute, no one knows.

After Billy's death, Libby Thompson, the famous "Squirrel Tooth Alice" continued running her brothel in Sweetwater, Texas. She ran it up to the time that she retired in 1921 at the age of 66. As for her children, it's said that most of her sons had become petty criminals and her daughters supposedly followed in their mother's footsteps by also becoming prostitutes.

Libby is said to have spent her last years living in Palmdale, California. On April 13th, 1953, Libby Thompson, the famous "Squirrel Tooth Alice," died at the Sunbeam Rest Home in Los Angeles, California, at the ripe old age of 98. Imagine that for a moment, that Old West madam died at 98 years old in 1953.

Imagine for a moment if your will. Though she was a prostitute and madam most of her life, she survived being taken captive by Comanche Indians and being shunned by those who thought she should've killed herself instead of being raped by Indians. She was part of the opening of the frontier, had 9 children, and endured being married to a gambler who was a drunk and a killer. Yes, a man who was on the run most of his adult life.

Her brother-in-law Ben Thompson was actually a legend in his own time. She was said to have known all three of the Masterson brothers and others who Hollywood would make famous later. She was born before the Civil War, saw the opening of the West, and lived through the cattle drives. She worked in the cow-towns, saw America go to war with Spain, saw the advent of the automobile, lived through the Great Depression, two World Wars, the dawn of the nuclear age, the age of jet aircraft, and the birth of television.

The year she died, Nikita Khrushchev took power in the Soviet Union after the death of Josef Stalin. That was the year convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the United States for spying for the USSR. That was the year the Korean War truce was signed. It was a year when a U.S. Air Force test pilot named Chuck Yeager set a speed record in an X-1 rocket plane. And yes, indeed, in 1953, the movie Shane starring Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, and Van Heflin was released by Paramount Pictures. 

Just imagine that if you would.

Tom Correa


  1. It would be interesting to see what actually became of the nine kids. Are there descendents today that could tell his and her story?

    1. Hello David, I agree that it would be interesting to find out about them. And frankly my friend, I don't know if there are descendants around today. Thanks for visiting my site. Best regards, Tom

    2. This woman is my great great great grandmother! I'm a descendant of her daughter, Ray Thompson.

    3. I guess I should have said, Billy and Libby were my great great great grand parents. One of their daughters, Really "Ray" Thompson married a Montgomery. I don't know Ray's husband's name. But he was hanged at age 36 for stealing cows. Ray was also a dance hall girl and prostatute. They had a son, Will E. Montgomery who was my great grandfather.

  2. It’s amazing in support of me to truly have a blog site, which will be valuable meant for my knowledge. Thanks admin.

  3. This woman, madam Libby was my great great great grandmother! I'm a descendant of her daughter, Ray Thompson.

  4. Libby Thompson is my great great grandmother. One of her sons, Charlie Martin Thompson married my sweet sweet great grandmother Jeanette Schoolcraft Thompson. My grandmother told stories about Libby (granny) that she used to chew tobacco and that she had one of her sons steal a pig from another of her sons just before it was ready to be sold at the market.


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